Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Barber - Adagio for String Orchestra

With its quiet, sustained opening notes the mood of the Adagio is set within the first ten seconds. Initially the sad melody is played by the violins while the cellos and basses supply a heavy bottom of sustained notes. The phrases are long and drawn out, and there is no doubt that this is a melancholy, yet peaceful work.

This exposition continues for almost two minutes. Then the different sections of the orchestra start to change roles, and with this shift the intensity of the piece grows. It is as if one is striving against all odds to climb a mountain, and with every two steps up you slip back one. This slow climb continues as the music grows in intensity until it reaches a searing climax (7:09). The climax is followed by a brief silence; the struggle to reach the pinnacle is now replaced by the calm and quiet of an exhausted trip down the mountain. The music returns to its solemn, peaceful beginning theme. The Adagio ends with sustained chords that are held until they fade away into silence.

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